Sarah Sanders clarifies apparent misstatement on the number of terrorists caught at the border

On Wednesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked back an inaccurate claim she made earlier this week about the number of terrorists caught at the southern border.

The White House press secretary owned up to mistakenly insinuating that nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were caught at the border last year in a Sunday interview with Fox host Chris Wallace.

Sanders clarified that nearly 4,000 suspected terrorists attempted to enter the country through all legal points of entry into the United States — not just our southern border with Mexico. However, Sanders said that letting “even one” terrorist slip into the country is unacceptable.

Sanders walks back border claim

The admission comes after Fox host Chris Wallace pressed Sanders in a viral Sunday interview on claims made by the White House and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the number of terrorists attempting to enter the country.

“We know that roughly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border,” Sanders said.

Wallace challenged Sanders on the claim and said that most suspected terrorists attempt to enter the U.S. through airways, not at the border. Sanders owned up to the misstatement to Fox on Wednesday.

“I should have said 4,000 at all points of entry, not just at the southern border,” Sanders said on Fox and Friends.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a press release after the Sunday interview clarifying that 3,700 people on terror watch lists were apprehended in Fiscal Year 2017, 10 on average a day, but that most were caught at airports, not at the border.

Honest mistake

Sanders seemingly made an honest mistake by confusing two categories used by the Department of Homeland Security to categorize terror threats: “special interest aliens” and “known and suspected terrorists.” In his interview with Sanders, Wallace countered the DHS’s claim that thousands of “special interest aliens” have attempted to enter the country through the southern border.

While defending the DHS, Sanders jumped in with the assertion that nearly 4,000 “known or suspected terrorists” have been apprehended at the southern border. DHS data says that 3,755 known or suspected terrorists were caught entering the country last year, which the department explained in its press release mostly entered by air, something that Sanders missed.

But the DHS also said that more than 3,000 “special interest aliens” were found at the southern border in FY17. The DHS explained that Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) are not the same as Known or Suspected Terrorists (KSTs), so Sanders probably conflated the two statistics.

DHS fact checks Wallace

Still, the DHS said that there is a “real” terror threat at the border and that the number of individuals on terror watch lists caught at the southern border has gone up the last two years. The DHS said that the “exact number is sensitive,” but “all Americans would agree that even one terrorist reaching our borders is one too many.”

The DHS also fact-checked Wallace’s claim that SIAs are “just people who have come from countries that have ever produced a terrorist, they’re not terrorists themselves,” explaining that SIAs, while not known or suspected terrorists, are “not simply people who ‘traveled from a country that had terrorism.'”

“The targeting information and analysis done by DHS is more sophisticated and incorporates a number of factors. Often these are individuals who have obtained false documents, or used smugglers to evade security across multiple countries,” the department explained. “In addition, some have engaged in criminal activity that could pose a danger to the United States, and some are found to have links to terrorism after additional investigative work and analysis by CBP personnel.”

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Sanders said that the “bottom line” is that letting even one terrorist into the country is one too many.

“The bottom line is whether it’s one, four, fourteen or four thousand, one terrorist coming into our country in [an] illegal fashion to do us harm is one too many,” she said. “We have to take every step possible to prevent that from happening, including protecting our most vulnerable points of entry, and we know that to be the southern border.”

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